Thursday, August 11, 2011

Comparing Vital Records databases with databases

I went to today to "collect" the birth and death record images for Clarence Edward Hildreth (1874-1878), son of Edward and Sophia (Newton) Hildreth.  I didn't have them, but I had the references to them.

FamilySearch has indexed databases with record images for Massachusetts Births, 1841 to 1915, Massachusetts Marriages, 1841-1915, and Massachusetts Deaths, 1841-1915, all from FHL microfilms of the record books at the Massachusetts State Archives.  These record books contain yearly reports from each town in Massachusetts on forms submitted by the town clerks to the State.

The New England Historic Genealogical Society website, AmericanAncestors (requires a subscription) has the Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841-1910 database indexed with record images, so I want to compare them in this blog post.

1)  Here is the death record index report from FamilySearch for Clarence Hildreth's death:

The information indexed for this record is:

Event date: 21 Feb 1878
Event place: Leominster, Massachusetts
Gender: Male
Age: 3
Marital Status: Single
Birthplace: Leominster, Massachusetts
Estimated Birth Year: 1875
Father's name: Edw'd
Father's birthplace: Townsend
Mother's name: Sophia
Mother's birthplace: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Volume/Page/Certificate number: no5 page345
Film number: 960215
Digital folder number: 4221430
Image number 686

Here is the screen image for the record on the FamilySearch site (no sign-in required):

The user can save this image to their computer file folder - the JPG file size for this image is 410 kb.

The FamilySearch index indicates that this is from Volume 5, Page 345 of the Massachusetts Births, 1841 to 1915 database.

The Source citation suggested on FamilySearch for this record is:

Massachusetts Death, 1841-1915. index and images, FamilySearch ( 20 January 2011. death of Clarence E. Hildreth, 21 Feb 1878; microfilm number 960,215; Massachusetts State Archives, Massachusetts Division of Vital Statistics, State House, Boston, Massachusetts.

2)  On the website, the index and image record are shown below:

Above the image is the Page Index information needed for a source citation:

Volume: 303
Page: 345

The information indexed from this page is provided below the image:

The indexed information includes:

Name:  Clarence E. Hildreth
Year: 1878
Year: 1878
Location: Leominster, Worcester, Massachusetts, United States
Record Type: Death
Amended? No

The user can Save the image to his computer, choosing "Save" (puts it in some file folder) or "Save As" (puts it in the file folder you want).  The file size for this image is 7,446 kb. 

The Source citation for this record suggested on the AmericanAncestors site is:

Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841–1910. (From original records held by the Massachusetts Archives. Online database:, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2004.)

3)  Some conclusions:

*  FamilySearch provides only the town, not the county.  AmericanAncestors provide the town and county.

*  The AmericanAncestors image size is quite large, has good contrast, and therefore is very readable when magnified.  The FamilySearch image is smaller, has only fair contrast, but is readable when magnified. 

*  The FamilySearch index information is different from the AmericanAncestors index information.  FamilySearch provides much more information about the individual.

*  The FamilySearch index indicates Volume 5, page 345.  I believe that this is Volume 5 for Deaths in 1878, although the index record does not provide the year number.  These volumes are all on FHL microfilm.  A user can look in the FHL Catalog to determine the year and volume number (although some films have more than one volume), but that is more work for the user and is not always definitive.  The AmericanAncestors Index says Volume 303, Page 345.  This volume number is for the entire Massachusetts Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1841-1910 at the Massachusetts State Archives.  Both citations are correct, but using the overall volume is, I believe, the most useful source citation.

*  A user can search the FamilySearch databases for parents names, or using other fields, and with wild cards.  The AmericanAncestors search is only for first name, last name, a year range, and specific locations.

*  FamilySearch is free, AmericanAncestors requires a yearly subscription (or access at a library with a subscription).

Each website provides useful information, an index and images of the records.  I wish that:

*  FamilySearch included the overall Volume number of the VRs in their source citation, and provided the County.

*  AmericanAncestors provided more indexed information to facilitate searching, and included the record type, year, volume and page number in their source citation.

1 comment:

Heather Wilkinson Rojo said...

I enjoyed your analysis. I've used the NEHGS site for years, and always go it instead of the new information now at Family Search- it is a bad habit I am trying to break. It's nice to know what's at Family Search because I can refer other people there (who don't have subscriptions to NEHGS). Now I can tell them the pros and cons you have so thoughtfully worked out in this post.